Now this is a fairly horrific story, and we dare anyone to tell us that this is a good thing:

Into Thin Air Fast Company (4/04)

It was Saddam Hussein who broke the news to Myra Bronstein that her job was gone forever.

A 48-year-old senior engineer at WatchMark Corp., a Bellevue, Washington, software company, Bronstein had spent three years running tests and hunting for bugs in the company's software. She knew that things weren't going so well at work; she'd been asked to pull 12- to 18-hour shifts frequently, her boss reiterating that the company's success depended on her "hard work and efforts." So when Bronstein received a brusque email in March 2003 instructing her to come to a 10 a.m. meeting in the boardroom the next day, she began to worry. "No way can that be good," she thought.

Looking for guidance, Bronstein logged on to a Yahoo users' group for WatchMark employees. And there it was, in a post written by "Saddam Hussein": "Here's what's going to happen tomorrow," Bronstein remembers the post read. "For all the quality assurance engineers reading this, your jobs are gone." At that very moment, it said, their replacements were on their way here from India for training. It listed their names, then concluded with sadistic glee: "Make sure on Monday you welcome your replacements with open arms, because your company has chosen them over you."


The next morning, a Friday, Bronstein and some 60 others were told that they were being terminated. Some left immediately; others, like Bronstein, were asked to stay on for several weeks to train the new folks. "Our severance and unemployment were contingent on training the replacements," she says. "It was quite explicit." WatchMark's new CEO, John Hansen, says an additional payment beyond the severance was offered to those who stayed on.

Did you read that: their severance and unemployment were contingent on training their replacements! We dare ANYONE to justify that behavior: it's brutal, it's sadistic and it should be illegal.

Since leaving WatchMark (now called WatchMark-Comnitel), Bronstein, who made $76,500 plus bonus, has been out of work, making ends meet with unemployment and by cashing out her 401(k). With both of those gone, she's turned to selling her collection of antique women's compacts on eBay. "It's the difference between hopeful and hopeless," she says. "If you're just laid off, you can tell yourself that the economy swings back and forth, but if it's outsourced offshore, it ain't coming back. It still exists, but it just exists in another place. The IT industry in the United States has gone from being a very high-level, well-paying industry to being very low-paying sweatshop labor, and that's an inexorable trend."

Equally dramatic are the displacement, downward mobility, and suffering of the people left behind. So far, at least, that enhanced productivity hasn't translated into jobs at home. Offshoring is steadily eating its way into the educated classes, both in the United States and elsewhere, affecting jobs traditionally considered secure. People whose livelihoods could now be at risk include everyone from IT experts to accountants, medical transcriptionists to customer-service representatives. In IT alone, Gartner estimates that another 500,000 positions in the U.S. may leave by the end of this year; in one scenario, as many as 25% of all IT professional jobs could go overseas by 2008. If just 40% of those people never find another job in their field, that could be more than 1 million whose careers are altered forever.


That's the challenge faced by both Roxanna Sieber and Doug Hill every day. They come from different backgrounds--Sieber, 58, was an $11-an-hour keyboarder in Villisca, Iowa, for a company that helped make textbooks, while Hill, 60, worked as a contractor in automotive design at Lear Seating in Dearborn, Michigan, and earned six figures. But both saw their jobs move overseas and neither has found permanent work since. Hill works part-time in the veterans' benefits office of American Indian Health and Family Services; Sieber is unemployed.

"I'm done," says Hill. "I know that. Who's going to hire me? I'm 60. I'm just living one day at a time, and I do a lot of praying." Both Hill and Sieber are philosophical about the offshoring trend, saying that's the way the world works, but they worry about the long-term impact on the middle class. "I believe in free enterprise," says Sieber, "but personally, I think that the government makes it too easy to do it."

Brutal. Absolutely brutal: and, if you're an American, your goverment makes it easy! Hell, they're encouraging it.


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